With the mindset of improving their expertise, Doctors at the University of Connecticut are using 3-D printing technology to get hands-on training to practice delicate brain surgery.
David Brotmann, a medical physicist, came up with an idea of using 3-D printing technology to practice a procedure to treat strokes, referred to as mechanical thrombectomy. To remove the blood clots, a physician guides a catheter through a patient's arteries and vessels into the brain.
To imitate this procedure Brotmann took medical scans of the blood vessels and converted them into an image that could be recognized by a 3-D printer.
The brain, being such a delicate organ, cannot take the chance of something going wrong during the actual surgery. Using the plastic model, Doctors can practice threading a wire through it and a piece of substance to simulate the blood clot.
This was all made possible with the help of not only Brotmann but also Dr. Clifford Yang, a cardiac radiologist with an electrical engineer background at UConn Health and Dr. Charan Singh, an interventional radiologist responsible for teaching the thrombectomy procedure at UConn. The three used their knowledge and expertise to transform the medical scans into printable images.
"The way previously to practice this technique was on a living patient," said Brotman in an article from Bellingham Herald. "I don't think you want that to be you or me."
The printed model is a cost-effective, as opposed to using a computer simulation program way to teach residents the procedure, costing roughly $14. The hands-on training is also much safer than doing it on an actual patient for the first time.
"The scans, either CT or MRI, give you a bunch of slabs, layer by layer of what the vessels look like," said Dr. Yang in the article from Bellingham Herald. "We are able to transfer that to files the 3-D printer can recognize and take those slabs and print layer by layer over several hours."
Currently, the university has only one set of images it uses to create the model. Eventually, these scans will be readily available for immediate conversion, allowing residents and neurosurgeons to practice the procedure on any patient's unique vascular structure before undergoing the surgery. UConn will make these first-of-its-kind 3-D image files available to all hospitals who wish to create their own 3-D printed models.
Similar devices and other technology that can simulate blood flow, however, they are much more expensive. As 3-D printing technology becomes cheaper, the idea of using it in neurosurgery has been catching on nationally. Brotmann originally thought about applying for intellectual property to protect his idea but said it was more important to get this idea and technology out there to improve patient safety.
"Strokes and other emergencies, you typically can't practice on an individualized patient ahead of time," said Dr. Justin Caplan, in an article. "But for elective procedures, such as aneurysms, you could custom 3-D print that exact patient's exact aneurism and practice. There's a benefit there for the trainee and for a surgeon in tricky cases."
Brotmann hopes that using 3-D printing technology will provide a budget-friendly way to teach residents and medical professionals globally without needing access to expensive high-tech surgical simulators.